The compact SUV goes from cute-ute to king of the road

▶ ▶ Small sport-utes are poised to sur­pass the Camry and Ac­cord as Amer­ica’s fa­vorite fam­ily ride ▶ ▶ “There’s re­ally been a shift in taste across the board”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

Craig and Tiffany Soll­man of Greenville, S.C., are the kind of car buy­ers Amer­ica’s sedan mak­ers once could count on: He’s 41, she’s 33, and their baby boy, Micah, just turned 3 months old. The Soll­mans, though, never re­ally gave much thought to a sedan be­fore plunk­ing down $24,000 re­cently for a tan Toy­ota RAV4 sportu­til­ity ve­hi­cle. “The ride is great, it gets good gas mileage, and there’s enough room in the back for baby ac­ces­sories,” Craig said in an e-mail, be­cause he and his wife are too busy with Micah to chat on the phone. “My wife’s best friend de­liv­ered a daugh­ter within a month of us, and they also went out and got a Toy­ota RAV4.”

Thanks to driv­ers like the Soll­mans, the fam­ily sedan’s decades of dom­i­nance—from the Chevy Bel Air in the 1950s through the Toy­ota Camry of to­day—are com­ing to an end. Compact SUVS in­clud­ing the RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Ford Es­cape are the new fam­ily car of choice. Small sport-utes started out­selling the Camry, Honda Ac­cord, and other mid­size sedans last sum­mer; this year they’ll over­take tra­di­tional cars, sell­ing about 3.1 mil­lion vs. 3 mil­lion, to com­mand the largest share of the U. S. auto mar­ket for the first time, ac­cord­ing to re­searcher LMC Au­to­mo­tive.

“Sedans used to be the bread-and­but­ter seg­ment, but now compact SUVS have be­come the go-to ve­hi­cle,” says Jeff Schus­ter, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for fore­cast­ing at LMC. “There’s re­ally been a shift in taste across the board.”

Driv­ing this dra­matic de­par­ture is a so­ci­ety that likes to ride high and live large. Mod­ern SUVS bear lit­tle re­sem­blance to the rugged roustabouts of yore. They don’t guz­zle: A CR-V gets 33 miles per gal­lon on the high­way. They don’t rat­tle your bones: Many are built on smooth-rid­ing car chas­sis, not truck frames. And they’re af­ford­able: The av­er­age price is $26,400, just $700 more than a mid­size car, ac­cord­ing to au­to­mo­tive pric­ing web­site Ed­munds.com.

They’re also more broadly ap­peal­ing than the small SUVS Toy­ota Mo­tor and Honda Mo­tor in­tro­duced in the late

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